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Weaning ourselves off the 'mother country'

By Peter van Vliet - posted Wednesday, 2 November 2005

While the rise of our Mary might be causing some republicans to give up in despair, supporters of Australia’s monarchy received a reality check in a development that barely made headlines last week.

Great Britain has announced that it is proposing to abolish ancestral or “granny” visas for Australians. These visas enable Australians with a British grandparent to live and work in the United Kingdom and stay permanently after four years if they wish. Granny visas have been used by many Australians to gain a foothold into British life and maintain connection with the “mother country”. Not so any more if The Times is to be believed. Australians with British grandparents will have to try their luck on an immigration test along with every other non-European.

The removal of ancestral visas will be another page number in the long saga of British withdrawal from Australian life. In 1942 we had the fall of Singapore, where Britain lost its capacity to defend its empire and Australia looked to new alliances to make its way in the world. Then in 1973 Britain entered the European Common Market effectively ending the special economic relationship between our two countries. With the arrival of the European Union, Australians lucky enough to travel overseas have had to endure the humiliation of joining the slow cue at Heathrow, as Germans, French and Italians streamed past us in the EU express lane. More importantly, Britain gave European citizens special employment and residency rights that are denied to Australians despite us sharing a sovereign in Queen Elizabeth II.


While Australia remains stuck with the absent British monarchy and its growing irrelevance to our daily lives, increasingly we are also getting none of the benefits of the British connection. While Britain increasingly treats us as a foreign nation, we remain wedded to the Queen as our sovereign. The British people themselves must find this increasingly bizarre. Our future head of state, Prince Charles, reportedly pondered in New Zealand that life would be much easier if he didn’t have to rule over that country. Surely he too must be aware of the growing absurdity of the royal connection in Australia.

But it’s not just the rise of Princess Mary that republicans have had to contend with. Channel Ten’s new program, Australian Princess, is also pumping out the royalist propaganda. The show depicts 14 otherwise intelligent and happy young Australian women subjecting themselves to right-royal scrutiny from two first-class English snobs in order to be crowned Australia’s “princess”.

To become Australia’s “princess” the women must win the approval of the two expert judges, Paul Burrell and Jean Broke-Smith. Paul Burrell, the former long-term Princess Diana aide, says he is looking for the “spirit of Australia” in his princess. In the first episode he seems to think this should include an Australian princess having an intimate knowledge of aspects of the British Royal family. What this has to do with the spirit of Australia is unclear.

The second judge, again brought in from the old country, is Jean Broke Smith. She states that when meeting a member of the royal family one should shake their hand firmly and curtsey at the same time. She obviously didn’t consult with our own former first lady Anita Keating who decided that it was definitely un-Australian to curtsey to anyone, including the Queen.

But it was the first week of the program that offered some hope for republicans. The first four evictees, Belinda Royal, Veronica McCann, Christine Bryan and Alana Gray, gave us cause for optimism. In failing the test on old-world royalty they passed the test of Australian reality in flying colours.

As Veronica McCann, the West Australian racing car driver, stated, “the whole thing is trying to pretend to be something that you’re not and I can’t do that”. This says a lot more about the spirit of Australia than Paul Burrell’s world of elite cocktail parties and Jean Broke-Smith’s bizarre deportment classes.


The ironic thing about Australian Princess is that while Channel Ten is tugging the forelock to Britain’s old world aristocrats, back in Britain they are putting up the shutters to keep young Australians out.

Come on Australia, even Britain is acknowledging our ties aren't what they once were. Let's stand on our own two feet as proud citizens of an Australian republic with our very own head of state.

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About the Author

Peter van Vliet is a senior public servant.

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